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The Vigilance Committee of '56.

By a Pioneer California Journalist
[James O'Meara]

San Francisco:
James H. Barry, Publisher, No. 429 Montgomery Street

Many accounts of the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco have been published, but all of them, so far as I have seen, were from the pen of members of that organization, or else from persons who favored it. As a consequence their accounts of it were either partial, to a greater or less degree, or imperfect otherwise; and much has been omitted as well as misstated and misrepresented otherwise. I was not a member of the Vigilance Committee, nor was I a member of the opposing organization, known as the Law and Order body, of which General Sherman was the head and Volney E. Howard next in rank. I have never been in favor of mob or lynch-law in any form, and, therefore, had neither sympathy with nor disposition to join the Vigilance Committee. And while I was earnestly in support of Law and Order, I did not feel that I could better subserve that cause by joining the organization formed at that time, for the avowed purpose of maintaining the one and enforcing the other. I had many friends on each side, and I also knew many in each organization who were unworthy of fellowship in any good or honorable cause or association; and some of these bore prominent rank in each organization. As was said of the Regulators of Texas, who directed their energies chiefly against horse thieves and robbers, that some of the worst and most guilty of them hastened to join the band, in order to save themselves from arrest and the rope or bullet, likewise were there some prominent in the Vigilance Committee of 1856, who undoubtedly joined it for similar reasons - to escape the terrors of the organization; and the Executive Committee was not exempt from these infamous characters.

The Executive Committee, forty-one in number, was thus composed in membership: William T. Coleman, James Dows, Thomas J. L. Smiley, John P. Monrow, Charles Doane, James N. Olney, Isaac Bluxome, Jr., William Meyers, Charles Ludlow, - Christler, Richard M. Jessup, Charles J. Dempster, George R. Ward, E. P. Flint, Wm. Rogers, Aaron M. Burns, Miers F. Truitt, W. H. Tillinghast, W. Arrington, Charles L. Case, J. D. Farwell, W. T. Thompson, Eugene Dellesert, J. K. Osgood, J. W. Brittan, Jules David, C. V. Gillespie, Calvin Nutting, E. Gorham, N. O. Arrington, F. W. Page, O. B. Crary, L. Bassange, D. Tubbs, Emile Grisar, E. B. Goddard, Henry M. Hale, Chas. Ludlow, M. J. Burke, J. H. Fish, C. P. Hutchings, J. Seligman.

W. T. Coleman was President, Thomas J. L. Smiley Vice-President and Prosecuting Attorney, John P. Morrow, Judge Associate, James Dows, Treasurer, Wm. Meyer, Deputy Treasurer, Isaac Bluxome, Jr. the notorious "33" - Secretary. Charles Doane was Grand Marshall, James N. Olney, Deputy Grand Marshall, R. T. Wallace was Chief of Police, John L. Durkee, Deputy Chief.

The military organization of the Vigilance Committee, rank and file, numbered nearly 5,000 men. Several of the Executive Committee were alien residents who never became citizens; and in the Committee, serving as troops, as police, and in other lines, were a large number of aliens, not naturalized, many of whom had not acquired sufficient proficiency in the English language to speak it or understand it. The military body comprised four regiments - infantry and artillery - together with battalions of cavalry, pistol companies and guard of citizens. A medical staff was duly organized. The roster, as here given, is copied from a recent publication in the Alta, stated to be authentic. The dashes which mark omission of the names, appear as they are placed in the Alta:

Charles Doane, Major-General. Staff officers: N. W. Coles, Quartermaster-General and Colonel of Cavalry; R. M. Jessup, Commissary-General and Colonel of Infantry; Aaron M. Burns, Deputy Commissary-General and Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry; James Dows, Paymaster-General and Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry; William Meyer and Eugene Dellesert, Paymaster-Generals and Majors of Infantry; Cyrus G. Dwyer, Adjutant and Inspector-General and Major of Infantry: Henry Baker, Quartermaster and Major of Infantry; R. R. Pearce and M. McManus, Assistant Quartermasters and Captains of Infantry; J. W. Farrington, Assistant Commissary and Captain of Infantry; R. Beverly Cole, Surgeon of the staff and Major of Infantry; Geo. C. Potter, aid to Major-General and Major of Cavalry; N. B. Stone, A. M. Ebbetts, T. M. Wood, O. P. Blackman, George R. Morris, T. A. Wakeman, Felix Brissac, C. H. Vail and George R. Ward, aids to Major-General and Majors of Infantry, James B. Hubbell, John M. Schapp and B. F. Mores, aids and secretaries to Major-General and Captains of Infantry, J. N. Olney, Jr., aid and secretary to Major-General and First Lieutenant of Infantry; James N. Olney, Brigadier-General; R. S. Tammot, Henry Jones and R. M. Cox, aids and Captains of Infantry.

Artillery - Thomas D. Johns, Colonel; J. F. Curtis, Lieutenant-Colonel; R. B. Hampton, Major; Company A, J. Mead Huxley, Captain; Company B, James Richit, Captain; Company C, H. C. F. Behrens, Captain; Company D, J. H. Hasty, Captain; James F. Curtiss, Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding Reserved Artillery.

Battallion Cavalry - Frank Baker, Major; First Squadron, G. G. Bradt, Captain; Second Squadron, J. Sewell Read, Captain.

Infantry - First Regiment, - - Colonel; J. S. Ellis, Lieutenant-Colonel; John A. Clark, Major; J. P. H., Wentworth, Quartermaster; H. H. Thrall, Adjutant; L. S. Wilder, Commissary; R. M. Cox, Sergeant-Major; H. W. F. Hoffman, Quartermaster's Sergeant and composed of eight companies, viz: Company A, W. C. Allen, Lieutenant commanding; Company B, H. L. Twiggs, Captain; Company C, A. L. Loring, Captain; Company D, J. V. McElwee, Captain; Company One,, J. M. Taylor, Captain; Company Two (Riflemen), L. W. Parks, Captain; Company Three, Jonathan Gavat, Captain, Company Seven, Geo. H. Hossefros, Captain.

Battallion Citizens Guard - Belonging to First Regiment, composed of A, B, C, and D, G. F. Watson, Major.

Second Regiment - J. B. Badger, Colonel; J. S. Hill, Lieutenant-Colonel; A. H. Clark, Major, Giles H. Gray, Quartermaster; E. B. Gibbs, Adjutant; F. A. Howe, Commissary; - - Sergeant-Major; Judah Alden; Quartermaster-Sergeant, and composed of eight companies, viz: Company Six, W. R. Doty, Captain; Company Twelve, C. G. Bailey, Captain; Company Eight, - - Godfrey, Captain; Company Four, A. H. King, Captain; Company Five, C. R. Bond, Captain; Company Ten, J. Wightman, Lieutenant commanding; Company Eleven, George Gates, Captain; Company Nine, J. Wood, Captain.

Third Regiment - H. S. Fitch, Colonel; Caleb Clapp Lieutenant Colonel; - , Major; - , Quartermaster; - , Adjutant; - , Commissary; - , Sergeant-Major; - , Quartermaster-Sergeant, and composed of eight companies, viz: Company Thirteen, E. J. Smith, Lieutenant commanding; Company Fourteen, W. E. Keyes, Captain; Company Fifteen, — , Lieutenant commanding; Company Sixteen, B. S. Bryan, Captain; Company Seventeen (Riflemen), C. E. S. McDonald, Captain; Company Eighteen, P. W. Shepheard, Captain; Company Nineteen, R. H. Bennett, Captain; Company Twenty, S. Gutte, Captain.

Fourth Regiment - Francis J. Lippitt, Colonel; John D. G. Quirk, Lieutenant-Colonel, - - , Major; - - , Quartermaster; B. L. West, Adjutant; - - , Commissary; - - , Sergeant-Major; - - , Quartermaster's Sergeant, and composed of eight companies, viz: Company Twenty-five, J. Sanfrignon, Captain; Company Twenty-eight, L. Armand, Captain; French Legion, - - Villaseque, Major; Company Twenty-four, W. H. Patten, Captain; Company Twenty-seven, C. H. Gough, Captain; Company Twenty-one, S. Meyerbock Captain; Company Twenty-three, J. T. Little, Captain; Company Thirty, W. O. Smith, Captain; Company Twenty-two, J. L. Folger, Captain; Company Twenty-nine, S. L. Harrison, Captain; Company Twenty-six, - - , Captain.

Pistol Battalion - Two companies, commanded respectively by Captains Webb and E. S. Gibbs.

The roll of Division No. 4 is thus given:

J. A. Collins, Commander, Geo. G. Whitney, 1st Lieut. W. H. Parker, 2d L't, J. H. Mallett, Orderly Sergeant, R. R. H. Rogers, Second Orderly Sergeant, Wm. H. Wood, Third Orderly Sergeant, Charles D. Cushman, Fourth Orderly Sergeant. Privates - D. Morgan, Jr., P. G. Partridge, John Burns, E. W. Travers. Giles H. Gray, Martin Prag, John Wright, James Wells, Jas. W. White, Judah Alden, Alfred Rix, J. W. Farrington, W. L. Waters, W. F. Hall, J. T. Bowers, J. L. N. Shepard, Lucius Hoyt, David Laville, H. A. Russell, E. Stevens, Theo. B. Cunningham, M. McMannis, Wm. H. Gibson, Edmund Keyes, George T. Bohen, I. M. Bachelder, R. T. Holmes, W. F. Shankland, B. Argyras, John R. Chute, John S. Davies, James McCeny, Geo. H. Tay, Sohn Bensley, L. Bartlett, Joseph W. Housley, Robert Wells, Samuel Fullerton, Newell Hosmer, J. J. Lomax, G. K. Fitch, Wm. Hayes, Robert A. Parker, Samuel Soule, A. Wardwell, Isaac E. Davis, M. McIntyre, F. E. Foote, Thomas A. Ayres, William K. Blanchard, J. F. Eaton, J. Frank Swift, J. O. Rountree.

These names of Secretaries of the Committees of the Executive Committee are added: On Evidence - J. H. Titcomb and D. McK Baker; on Qualification - E. T. Beals.

First, as to the cause or pretence for the organization of the Vigilance Committee: It is declared by its ex-members and supporters, or apologists, that it was necessary for the reason that the law was not duly administered; that the Courts, the fountains of justice, were either corrupted or neglectful of their duties; that Juries were packed with unworthy men in important criminal cases, that there were gross frauds in elections, by which the will of the people was defied and defeated, and improper and dishonest men, some of them notorious rogues, were counted in and installed in public office; and that there was a class of turbulent offenders who had the countenance, if not the support of judges and officials in high places, and who, therefore, felt themselves to be above or exempt from the law. Tennyson has well remarked that there is no lie so baneful as one which is half truth. So it is in respect to these alleged reasons for the organization of that Vigilance Committee. It is not true that the Courts were corrupt, neglectful or remiss. Judge Hager presided in the Fourth District Court, and his integrity and judicial qualifications, or judgments, have never been questioned or impeached. Judge Freelon presided as County judge; the same can be remarked of him. There was no material fault alleged against the Police Court. It is true, however, that in important criminal cases, and sometimes in civil suits, the juries were often packed. But why? I will state: Merchants and business men generally had great aversion to serve on juries, particularly, in important criminal cases, which are usually protracted; and the jury were kept in comparative close condition, because their time was too valuable, and their business interests required their constant attention. They preferred, therefore, to pay the fine imposed, in case they were unable to prevail upon the Judge to excuse them. Jury fees were inconsiderable in comparison with their daily profits; but it was the loss of time from their business which mainly actuated them. Yet these fees were sufficient to pay a day's board and lodging, and to the many who were out of employment, serving on a jury was the means to both. There is, in every large community, the class known as professional jurymen - hangers about the Court, eagerly waiting to be called. There were men of this kind then; there are more than enough of them still loitering about the Courts, civil and criminal. San Francisco is not the only city in the United States in which defendants in grave criminal cases have recourse to every conceivable and possible means, without scruple, to procure their own acquittal, or the utmost modification of the penalty, by proving extenuating circumstances, or that the indictment magnifies the crimes. This was true of 1856; here, as elsewhere in the land; it is equally true now. Had the merchants and solid citizens then drawn as jurors, fulfilled their duty to the cause of justice, to the conservation and maintenance of law and order, they would have had no cause or pretence for the organization which they formed. The initial fault was attributable to themselves; the jury-packing they complained of was the direct consequence of their own neglect of that essential duty to the State, in the preservation of law and order; and they cannot reasonably or justly shift the onus from themselves upon the Courts.

Concerning the frauds in election: yes, there were frauds, outrageous frauds, at every election; repeaters, bullies, ballot-box stuffing, and false counts of the ballots to count out this candidate and count in the one favored of the "boys." More than one member of the Vigilance Executive Committee had thorough knowledge of all this, for the very conclusive reason that more than one of them had engaged in these frauds, had not only participated in them directly and indirectly, but had actually proposed them; employed the persons who had committed the frauds, and paid these tools round sums for the infamous service. The reward of these employers and accessories before, during and after the frauds, was the office that was coveted; and the "Hon." prefixed to their names was as the gilt which the watch stuffer applies to the brass thing he imposes upon the greenhorn as a solid gold watch. Out of the Committee, of the Executive Committee, the detectives of that body might have unearthed these honorable and virtuous purifiers and reformers; with them, perhaps others whose frauds were no less wicked and criminal; but in business transactions, and not in political affairs. One of the Executive Committee had served his term of two years in the Ohio State Prison for forgery; here in San Francisco he had, during two city elections, been the trusted agent and disburser of a very heavy sack in the honest endeavor to secure the nomination, and promote the election, of his principal to high office, yet this pure man was honored by his associates of the Committee, and became singularly active in pressing the expatriation of some of the very "ruffians and ballot-box-stuffers" he had patronized and paid. He had learned that "dead men told no tales." This pure-character did not stand alone in his experience of penal servitude, as birds of a feather, and he was under no necessity of examplifying Lord Dundreary's bird, to go into a corner and flock by himself. That some turbulent offenders, and largely too many of them, defied the law, is likewise true. But that they were countenanced or favored by the Judges, is utterly without truthful foundation. And it is remarkable that, of all the men hanged or expatriated by the Committee, only two had ever been complained of or arraigned before the Courts for any crime of violence; not one of them all had been here accused or suspected of theft or robbery, or other felony. This is more, as I have just above stated, than can be said of some of the forty-one members of the Executive Committee. And among the members of the rank and file of the five thousand or six thousand enrolled upon the lists of the Committee - of natives and English-speaking citizens or residents - there were scores of scoundrels of every degree, bogus gold-dust operators, swindlers and fugitives from justice. Of the members of other nationalities - some of whom had not been in the country long enough to acquire English - I have no occasion to pass remark; but the fear of communism and disturbance, from the increase of its incendiary votaries in our country, east and here, cannot be lessened or composed by the recollection of the conduct of many of the same nationalities who then swelled the ranks of the Committee troops.

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